Resilience and Why it Matters

Resilience is about a community’s ability to anticipate, adapt to, and successfully overcome what usually amounts to unanticipated, harmful events. Every community faces threats. These threats may come from nature, or rather the natural environment, from economic forces within the community, or from external social policies and programs. The most challenging threats are often a combination of all of these. Resilience is the ability to provide the necessary physical, social, cultural, and economic structure for members to live, work, and thrive in the face of chronic and emerging threats.


Why Study Farm Resilience?

We all know that small and medium-sized farms play a crucial role in rural economies, food security, and land stewardship. Yet, over the long term, extreme events and rapid changes in our environment can threaten small and medium-sized farm viability. In the North Puget Sound Region, for example, some of these threats include seasonal flooding, access to labor during harvest peaks, and spikes in fossil fuel costs. These events can put small farms out of business overnight. Other threats are more long-term, such as permitted water use, prohibitively-high land costs and climate change, as well as disjointed regulation. These long-term threats can slowly grind down farmers, as well as the farm family as evidenced by the lack of children who want to farm.


At Western Washington University’s Huxley College of the Environment and Resilience Institute, we wanted to find out what threatens local farms, and what strategies local farmers were using to reduce vulnerability and stay resilient. We started our study focusing on threats from rapid urbanization, seasonal flooding, undesirable climate change, and fossil fuel spikes. Talking to local farmers of all types, we verified that these threats were indeed important, but also that farmers were skilled at creatively adapting to these threats. What emerged from the study was that other issues posed a greater threat. Urban encroachment, also a threat we identified early in the study, combined with conflicting regulation, generational continuity, and misinformed community perceptions threatened to undermine both individual farm operations and the farm networks on which they depend.